Charges can be framed only on material, not on speculation: Delhi High Court quashes charge order against chartered accountant

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The Delhi High Court on Monday observed that charges can be framed only on the material before the court and not on speculation. [Vinod Kumar Kila v CBI]
Justice Asha Menon observed quashing a trial court order that had framed charges against a chartered accountant in a disproportionate assets case.

The trial court while framing charge had observed that the possibility could not be ruled out that one of the accused persons could become an approver and disclose to the court the entire conspiracy, which the High Court opined was a peculiar line of reasoning.

“There is no gainsaying that such a reasoning is indeed convoluted. Charge can be framed only on the material before the court and cannot be based on speculation. The court had to consider whether on the chargesheet and documents relied upon by the CBI, including the retracted confessional statements recorded under Section 164 CrPC, there were sufficient grounds to frame charge against the petitioner,” the court held in its order.

The Court was acting on a plea of the chartered accountant, who challenged a 2016 order that charged him of the offence of abetment under the Indian Penal Code read with offences relating to criminal misconduct by a public servant under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The main accused in the case was stated to be an executive engineer of the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation who had allegedly amassed wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income.

The investigating agency alleged that the chartered accountant played a “pivotal role” in routing illegal money of the main accused by arranging companies and persons whose bank accounts were used for channelising tainted money.

According to the petitioner’s counsel, nothing incriminating against the petitioner could be garnered from 44 witnesses who had been examined so far, out of a total 120 witnesses. It was also submitted that at no point in time had the petitioner held any money on behalf of the public servant.

The money in question, it was argued, belonged to the wife of the main accused, and the petitioner was only the chartered accountant of her company with nothing to do with the public servant.

The CBI counsel pointed out that the scope of the petition was limited and narrow and the court couldn’t re-assess the material on the record.

Relying on a Supreme Court judgement in Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency (P) Ltd. v. CBI, he argued that court ought to exercise its revisional or inherent powers only to correct jurisdictional errors and that too in the rarest of rare cases.

The trial court, it was submitted, was not required to assess the material presented by the prosecution in depth while framing charge and it had rightly framed charges against the petitioner.

At the time of framing of charge against the petitioner, the trial court observed that the question of intent in committing the act could not be considered and no conclusion could be drawn that he had unintentionally acted so during the normal course of his business as a chartered accountant.

“The trial court also held that the possibility of one of the accused coming into the witness box under Section 315 CrPC read with Section 21 IPC could not also be ruled out and, therefore, when such a situation arose, the court would be justified to consider the aforesaid confession(s) of that/those accused to reach a decision after the trial. It concluded that grave doubt was enough to frame charge,” the High Court noted.

Justice Menon also found it strange that the trial court thought it appropriate to refer to Section 315 (accused to be competent witness) CrPC rather than to Section 319 of the CrPC that empowered the court to proceed against any person appearing to be guilty of an offence during the course of trial, after the submission of the chargesheet.

According to the court, the trial court record did not disclose independent material against the petitioner.

“Even the learned trial court in the impugned order refers to no such material. Retracted statements of a co-accused will be utterly inadequate to establish, prima-facie, the participation of the petitioner in a conspiracy with the co-accused to facilitate the commission of the offences… in respect of which the charge has been framed against the petitioner which was why the learned trial court wanted to wait and watch, for a probability that did not exist in the immediate present, and which decision of the learned trial court cannot be upheld,” the order held.

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